After an extensive Internet search, I've only been able to find a few statistics on missions, but I found enough to reach some conclusions on how targets and effectiveness global outreach efforts are impacted by today's economic and political boundaries.
Take China, for example. Although it's a pretty well-known fact that Christians survived and began flourishing house church movements after the Cultural Revolution subsided in the early 1970s, I wonder if the American church's involvement in missions there has ridden on the coattails of the "reform and opening" policy initiated by Deng Xiaoping. On a macro scale, missionaries are able to take advantage of the increasingly open markets by claiming business as their purpose for remaining in country. More indirectly, foreign ideology, at least in some places, slips subtly through the cracks along with imported goods.
According to a recent article in the Asia Times, the U.S. still sends out more missionaries than any other country. South Korea is second, with 17,000 proselytizers abroad, most of them in China. One of the pastors in the article satirized the way that American and other nations see China as having little value other than as a giant market for products and pool of cheap labor.
"There are one billion customers in China; there are also one billion lost souls in China too," he said. Ironically, it seems, at least in my view, that the drive for customers is fueling export of missionaries as well.
But the extent to which market reforms open doors for the Gospel still isn't clear to me. One could argue that the U.S., which has the most missionaries abroad, probably has most of its personnel stationed in nations that allow open proclamations of faith. But you could use that same argument to saw that raw numbers alone would catapult Americans to the top of the statistical list even in closed countries.
What is obvious is that in closed countries, platforms are necessary, and the more open a country is, the more likely it is that missionaries will go there. I guess the real question is whether there's any correlation between the U.S.' top export destinations and its high-ranking missions sending destinations, or whether a country's government or economic policies have any empirical impact on how many missionaries we send to that country. If anyone has any information or resources on the subject, please let me know, because I might like to do a more extensive article on it.
One statistic I read, which saddened me most throughout all this research, is that of the missionaries on the field, almost 3/4 of them are among nominal Christian groups, while only 2 percent are ministering to unreached people groups. That means that we're placing 75 percent of our emphasis on people who have already had a chance to receive the Gospel, while those who have never heard are slowly perishing.
Another statistic that will make you sick: The cost in total ministry expenditures for every one convert baptized in America is a whopping $1.5 million, according to numbers released by the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, Calif. In Asia, the ministry cost per convert is about $61,000, and it's even lower in Africa. Makes you wonder if we should do a bit more outsourcing of the gospel.
Find out here about Gospel for Asia's native missionary approach. GFA trains pastors (mostly in India) to do church-planting within their own cultural framework, eliminating the high overhead cost of transplanting a worker across the world and the need for cross-cultural training. Also, all donations go directly to the field, not to administrative costs. Adopting a GFA missionary is a budget-friendly way to impact God's kingdom and to get your church (or yourself) out of the mindset that Americans are the only Christian soldiers moving onward for the cause of Christ.
Photo: 'Exporting' to Xinjiang province, China.